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Housing development stifled by new government policy

The government's commitment to boost the supply of housing has been undermined by a Written Ministerial Statement, potentially reducing the number of homes that receive planning permission. Where does this leave housing delivery?

The government's commitment to boost the supply of housing has been undermined by a Written Ministerial Statement, issued by Gavin Barwell.

The intention was to give more weight to neighbourhood plans that allocate sites for housing. However, the effect could actually reduce the number of homes for which planning permission is granted.

National Planning Policy Framework – housing supply

Under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), housing policies cannot be considered up to date if the local planning authority cannot demonstrate that it has a five year supply of deliverable housing sites.  Where a five year housing supply cannot be shown, applications should be determined in accordance with the presumption of sustainable development.

Neighbourhood plans

Neighbourhood plans are prepared by local communities, but form part of the development plan and sit alongside the local plan prepared by the local planning authority. If they contain policies relevant to housing supply, they should take account of the latest evidence of housing need in the area. However, there is a danger that those areas with neighbourhood plans have prepared them in order to restrict development; not promote it.

The Written Ministerial Statement

The Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) effectively changes the requirement in relation to the amount of housing supply that the local planning authority needs to demonstrate before housing policies will be considered out of date. They will not be considered out of date if, at the time the decision is made:

  • the WMS is less than two years old, or the neighbourhood plan has been part of the development plan for two years or less;
  • the neighbourhood plan allocates sites for housing; and
  • the local planning authority can demonstrate a three year supply of deliverable housing sites.

Therefore, the effect of the WMS could stretch beyond 11 December 2018 if the neighbourhood plan has been part of the development plan for two years or less.

In these circumstances, the neighbourhood plan will take precedence over the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

If a neighbourhood plan has been submitted, but not yet made, until 6 July 2017, it  will be a criteria for consideration in the recovery of planning appeals in relation to residential developments of over 25 dwellings. This is to allow time for the Neighbourhood Planning Bill to complete its passage through Parliament.

The intention behind the WMS was clearly to allay the concerns of local communities who have put a neighbourhood plan in place and risk seeing it disregarded where the local planning authority is unable to show a five year housing supply. But at what cost?

Where does this leave housing delivery?

The WMS sets out that it should be read in conjunction with the NPPF and is a material consideration in relevant planning decisions. This has been followed recently by South Oxfordshire District Council, where a planning application for 65 homes was rejected.

If further applications are rejected on the basis of the test set out in the WMS, housing delivery will be stifled rather than boosted. This cannot have been the government's intention.

Such fundamental changes to planning policy would have been better dealt with by way of a consultation. That would have allowed interested parties to engage with the government and highlight potential issues.  It is on this basis that a consortium of developers has threatened a legal challenge to overturn the WMS. Therefore, it is possible that the WMS will be withdrawn and the requirement of a five year supply of housing will be reinstated.

We will monitor developments and keep you updated of their impact.

Contributor: Alexandra Holsgrove Jones

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at February 2017. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions

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